A second chance for people in recovery
As Kentucky claws its way out of the drug epidemic, thousands of people who are recovering from addiction are left trying to find a place to live and a job.
They are looking for a second chance, but who will hire them?
One woman is on a mission to change the culture in workplaces and open the doors to people rebuilding their lives.
"This week, I've been to Ashland already. I drive a lot. Henderson, Ky. and Covington, Florence, Hazard, Prestonsburg," Ashley McCarty said.
McCarty is on the road several days a week, with a message of hope, survival and a better future.
"I think of the people who are gonna be out in the audience, and the stigma that I have to crush, and the barriers I have to break, and the walls that have to be torn down," McCarty said.
Hired by the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce last summer, she speaks to business owners, managers and community leaders about making the workplace more "recovery friendly" to people climbing out of addiction.
McCarty has lived that hell.
"Six and a half years ago I was living in my car," she said.
On the drive to Pikeville where she is giving a presentation, she is very honest about how far she fell, and the long climb back.
"You know I grew up in a 5,000 sq. foot home, driving nice vehicles, and then I went to living in my car, using the bathroom in a bucket," McCarty said.
McCarty graduated from EKU, took a pharmaceutical sales job, that included a car, a company credit card, and a six-figure salary.
But, a couple of surgeries led to abusing pain pills, and cocaine, and meth.
She was fired from the sales job after trying to kill herself with pills. Eventually homeless, McCarty was arrested and ordered to rehab.
"I was accepting of my life at that point in time, but now, I look back and think of what I'm doing today, and I just, I can't believe where I'm at," McCarty said. "It gives me cold chills to think about where I am today. I get up everyday excited to go to work."
McCarty looks every bit the professional, and her audience is usually shocked to find out, she was an addict.
She shows the audience her mug shot, and says, "You see a victim, and I see a survivor. You see her, and I see me."
The group of businesspeople applauds her journey out of addiction.
"And then, when I tell 'em, and they find out, it's just a, I can see the stigma being chipped away, just a little bit at a time," McCarty said.
McCarty and the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce offer free help to these employers.
Each person at the presentation fills out an assessment card to help them figure out where they may need help in hiring, treatment, recovery and prevention.
It's part of the chamber's Opioid Response Program for Business.
Jordan Gibson is the President of the Southeast Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.
"I don't think you can be anywhere in the country and not know someone, or be related to someone that has struggled with addiction," Gibson said. "Whether it's publically or privately. So, I think it's really important for everyone, especially employers to know how to help those people, and work with those people."
When McCarty was going through addiction struggles before she was fired, she says her employers never asked, can we help? Is there something wrong? Part of her new mission is bringing more light to the addiction epidemic, and encouraging people who hire, to show more compassion and understanding.
"I'm just fighting this battle so that everybody can get a second chance, those who deserve it," McCarty said. "I'm just so grateful, and so blessed, and so humbled to be able to speak in front of people, and share my story, hopefully, help somebody, because I always say whenever I write my story or tell my story I want somebody to look at me and say, because of you I didn't give up."